Celebrating “Humanae Vitae” 45 Years Later

The one night stand may not have been born in the 60s, but it was granted acceptance and serial permanence. … the Holy Father saw how a general lowering of overall morality would be the result of such self-centeredness.

Humanae Vitae and I came into the world on the same day, July 25th.  In the summer of 1968, Pope Paul VI finally released his sanctioned statements promoting the intimate unity of the family and, consequently, condemning any use of artificial birth control.  No other magisterial document, and no subsequent ecclesial fallout, had ever received as much attention on the world’s stage than this moment.  In comparison to the sluice gates opened here, the flood brought on by Athanasius and Arius seemed barely a trickle!  From 1968 on, the divisions in the Church would be nightly news fodder, and Catholics would henceforth be recognized, sadly, not by our love for one another, but as “conservative” or “liberal.”  To many, we were becoming like any other political organization, centered not on the true and the holy, but on popularity and convenience.

Through prayer, study, and dialogue with many others, Pope Paul VI refused to go along with the Majority Commission’s recommendation that the Church follow other Christian groups in the 20th century and overturn the long-standing opposition to the indignities of artificial birth control.  Two American theologians, Fr. John Ford, S.J. and Dr. Germain Grisez, were particularly pivotal in strengthening Paul VI’s resolve not to capitulate to the times—proving, once again, how the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church is really the only place where we can be safe from the sins and seductions of our times.  Quickly, after the release of Humanae Vitae, the prayerful leader of the Jesuits during those tumultuous years, Fr. Pedro Arrupe, reminded all of us sons of Ignatius that “A teaching, such as the one Pope Paul VI presents, merits assent, not simply because of the reasons he offers, but also—and above all—because of the charism which enables him to present it. Guided by the authentic word of the Pope—a word that need not be infallible to be highly respected—every Jesuit owes it to himself, by reason of his vocation, to do everything possible to penetrate, and to help others penetrate, into the thought which may not have been his own previously; however, as he goes beyond the evidence available to him personally, he finds, or will find, a solid foundation for it.” (This letter is available on line at: http://frvanhove.wordpress.com/2012/10/06/letter-of-father-general-pedro-arrupe-on-humanae-vitae-1968/)  A young Jesuit scholastic preparing for priestly ordination the following year, Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pope Francis), must have been proud to read his General defend love so powerfully!  And what was this “solid foundation” to which Arrupe refers?  Father General goes on to argue that Humanae Vitae is ultimately rooted in the dignity of the human person and the Father’s glory, when we all think and act in accord with our nature, his perfect (and perfecting) will.

At the end of his watershed document, Pope Paul VI turns from the anthropological and theological argument against artificial birth control to more utilitarian factors, arguing that because of the contraceptive mentality this 20th century inaugurated, four things would inevitably become true.  The first is that widespread contraception would result in an increase in marital infidelity.  He presciently saw that once the marital act became, well, no longer “marital,” its fittingness was no longer determined by one’s state in life, but by individual performance and effectiveness.  An action that was once reserved for the office of marriage was reduced now to the fancy of friends (however fleeting and whimsical that “friendship” might be).  The one night stand may not have been born in the 60s, but it was granted acceptance and serial permanence. Second, the Holy Father saw how a general lowering of overall morality would be the result of such self-centeredness.  Do we need to look any further than prime time television for evidence of a society longing for intimacy, but having no real understanding of what could be meant by nuptial union and a type of human eros that elevates lovers to heaven?  Thirdly, Pope Paul argued, if contraception took hold of a society, women in particular would suffer.  Why so?  He wrote: “Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection” (Humanae Vitae §17).  The internet has ushered in a multi-billion dollar porn industry into the living rooms and the office: the convenience of reducing another to a two-dimensional screen, where one’s libido seeks no demands, no vulnerability, no relationship, no commitment.  Here, women, especially, have become simply apparatuses for fallen men’s cravings.  Finally, the warning went out against governments who would exploit the supposed expediency and effectiveness of forced contraceptives and sterilizations so as to manipulate a people into subservience, and to ensure the productivity of the state over the primacy of the family.

So, in many ways it seems fitting that my first editorial as editor of HPR celebrates the vision of the human person, evidenced throughout Humane Vitae.  My parents were committed Catholics, open to life.  The fact that I was born on the anniversary of this pivotal encyclical has always tickled me; the fact that I have been asked to write my first editorial during this month, terrifies me.  An editorial is an opportunity for one person to make his or her views known on a topic of choice.  There are no real directives apart from what editors think important enough for their readers to ponder.

Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J., has been providing that service to readers of these pages (now, screens) for over 40 years and, to be candid, I find being his successor a bit intimidating.  Fr. Baker was trained in the best of the Jesuit way, and has served God and his people faithfully and intelligently his entire Jesuit and priestly life.  Yet, to most of us, he will always be the last page of Homiletic and Pastoral Review: his smiling face next to his wise and, oftentimes, witty words.  He traveled and reported on Church synods, and events across the globe, bringing his perspective to many people for many years.   We thank you, Fr. Baker.  But as a good and faithful priest, he, more than any of us, realizes that while he may have been to generations the last page, he never intended to be the last word.  And so, with the grace of God, we carry on.

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avatar About Fr. David Vincent Meconi, SJ

Fr. David Meconi, S.J. is professor of patristic theology at St. Louis University and editor of the Homiletic and Pastoral Review (HPR). Fr. Meconi would like you to know that he offers Mass each month for readers of HPR; please be assured of his prayers for you.

Comments

  1. avatar Glenna says:

    JPII told us there are no coincidences so I’m ‘tickled’ that you & HV made your appearances on the same day because one event speaks to the significance of the other!
    For my part, I was a wandering flower child about to enter my senior year in highschool in Boulder, CO with 3 pairs of blue jeans, one long skirt & totally clueless about what ‘those old white men in Rome’ had to do with real life. Amazing how God writes straight with crooked lines, isn’t it?

  2. avatar Mary Pat says:

    GREAT job, Fr. Meconi! God has you right where He wants you. Thank you for still believing and for teaching this beautiful truth that comes from God. Pope Paul VI was totally led by the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus had promised, when he wrote Humanae vitae. We are seeing the disasterous fruits caused by all the dissent so many years ago. NFP is a truly moral means to help married couples live out their marriages in harmony with God’s design of their bodies. I am glad you were born on July 25 too! Our Church needs you! God bless you so much!

  3. avatar Gerard Joseph Laskowski says:

    Well done, Father! You continue in the footsteps of Fathers Baker, Schall, and Fessio – all S.J. Keep up the good work.

  4. avatar John Kippley says:

    And now we have a very easy way to remember your birthdays, year by year.

  5. avatar Peg Kelly Cruz says:

    What a wonderful birthday date to have! It is a day that should be seen as celebration and consecration of all life! God bless you for defending and promoting the great truths of this holy encyclical of Pope Paul VI. Please make it part of your life’s work to spread, continuously, the message of Humanae Vitae, and encourage other priests to do so. So many–especially women and including Catholics–are suffering greatly from ignoring its obvious truths. I read Humanae Vitae only just today, after its being referenced on the Women of Grace program on EWTN. I have not stopped reading it all day.Its like all the dots were connected to really understand the causes of the lostness of the present culture of death. I hope and pray this 45th Anniversary will provide a great opportunity to awaken hearts and minds again to Humanae Vitae. Surely, anyone can see the horrific outcome of not heeding its wisdom. Thank You. God Bless. Happy Birthday!

  6. avatar Martin B Drew says:

    Thank you, Fr. Meconi, for your Masses. When I was studying moral theology at the U. of Dallas and St Mary’s seminary. Humanae Vitae was one of the many documents studied along with Aquinas’ law and happiness tracts. It is an infallible teaching from Paul VI and, yet, in 1963-64, certain persons ignored the papal magisterium, and extraordinary episcopal magisterium, and initiated their own rights from themselves to measure God. The Apostles at the Council of Jerusalem stated: “We, and the Holy Spirit, have decided … on those things by which a person is not saved.” Paul VI did the same thing. Martin Drew Dallas

    • avatar Bill bannon says:

      Martin,
      Are you aware that Humanae Vitae was introduced at its press conference as non-infallible twice by Msgr. Lambrushini. Go here to EWTN’s version via:
      http://www.ewtn.com/library/Theology/PRSSCNHV.HTM
      Or, google around and you’ll find more on it.

      • avatar Roger Conley says:

        The teaching is, of course, infallible. Whether Humanae Vitae itself qualifies as an infallible statement of this infallible teaching is a topic for debate among orthodox theologians. What’s very clear is that whatever Msgr. Lambrushini said at a press conference, he was not speaking with any magisterial authority of any kind.

  7. Thank GOD for good parents!! And I happen to know that you were baptized on that same day too! So, not only the “human life” was granted, but the sanctification of baptism ..thus supernatural life….too! If parents could only see the GOoDness of their children with Faith, they would want as many as our Good God would send them! Thank God for Mom and Dad Meconi!!

  8. avatar Fr. Meconi, S.J. says:

    A Catholic doctrine can be universally and permanently binding without having to be declared “Infallible”. The Doctrine of Infallibility is reserved for matters of revelation where the Church prayerfully senses a pressing need to clarify what it is Christ desires to teach us. As we all know, this has happened only twice, regarding Mary’s Immaculate Conception and her Glorious Assumption. There has never been, nor will we ever need, an infallible statement regarding even “more important” issues, such as the existence of God, the Trinity or the Son’s Incarnation. Why? Simply, these have not been in doubt. Sure, the Church may have spent the first few centuries of her life debating the best terms to use with which to describe these central mysteries, their reality was never put in question.
    When it comes to Catholic morality, the Church argues that what we teach is something any fully-functioning person can figure out simply by seeing how the world and the human person functions: it is wrong to take the life of the innocent, it is wrong to harm oneself, and so on. A person steeped in natural law can see that artificial birth control goes against the fullness of the sexual act; anyone who has not been tarnished by less than ideal images of human sexuality should be able to read Humanae Vitae and say, “Of course!”. Is this not why the encyclical is addressed not only to clergy and to the “faithful”, but to “all people of good will” as well? The beautiful ban against artificial birth control is not a matter of revelation but just one more way the Church calls all people to their inherent dignity, regardless of the creed they profess (if any). This is why I would argue that it would be a disservice to make Humanae Vitae an “infallible” doctrine. It’s not just a “Catholic” thing; it is meant for all people!
    There is no confusion regarding what constitutes a healthy sexual act, only rebellion and resistance. In the past few years, I have seen more and more young people get rid of their artificial birth control based on ecology and a growing awareness of what all these chemicals do to a woman’s body. From there, they can come to see God’s activity in their marriage but one certainly doesn’t need to be a Catholic to see what Paul VI was giving all of us. Oremus!

    • avatar Bill bannon says:

      Except that you are incorrect that infallibility is not used for morals aside from the uom. In Evangelium Vitae the very opposite happened…John Paul II polled the world’s Bishops on three issues ( abortion, euthanasia, and killing the innocent) on which he obtained their virtual unanimity and then he issued infallible declarations on them which are infallible not by virtue of ex cathedra ( Vatican I) but by virtue of the Pope declaring in unity with all the Bishops ( Vatican II).
      This infallible alternative is also the extraordinary mode and was discussed as to Evangelium Vitae in the Jesuit periodical “Theological Studies” here at this link…especially see second paragraph page 564 at the link
      http://www.ts.mu.edu/readers/content/pdf/56/56.3/56.3.9.pdf

      Here is the infallible declaration against abortion from EV based on the worldwide polling which is brand new and obviates the necessity for a Council to achieve same:

      sect.62…” Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops-who on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine-I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church’s Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium. ”

      Compare the word formula to the IC ex cathedra encyclical:
      “. by the authority of Jesus Christ our Lord, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own: “We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful”.

      Very similar…the latter is the (Vatican I) solitary form of the extraordinary magisterium and the former is the communal form of the extraordinary magisterium (Vatican II…Lumen Gentium 25).
      Did John Paul also poll the Bishops on birth control which was also mentioned in EV? The correspondence being papal is probably secret for 80 years but I suspect he did but did not get unanimity because Cardinal Peter Turkson from Africa may be symptomatic of many clergy in Africa and he wants condoms permitted for married couples wherein one has contracted HIV.

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